Smart motorways ‘a risk to life’

10.15 | 3 September 2019 | | 5 comments

Image: Highways England

Plans to roll-out smart motorways across the country have been dealt a ‘severe blow’, according to a national newspaper.

First introduced in 2014, smart motorways use variable speed limits to manage traffic and tackle stop-start congestion.

The hard shoulder is turned into an ‘active lane’, with gantry signs displaying a red X indicating if a lane is closed – usually as a result of a vehicle breakdown or in the event of a collision.

The Sunday Telegraph reports four people have been killed on a section of smart motorway on the M1 in just ten months.

All the collisions happened after motorists failed to reach a safe lay-by – also known as an Emergency Refuge Area – on a 16-mile stretch of the M1 northbound.

The widow of one of those killed – Jason Mercer – has revealed she will sue Highways England for corporate manslaughter, according to the newspaper.

Mr Mercer was killed by oncoming traffic after pulling over following a minor collision. 

Claire Mercer has accused Highways England of failing to provide her husband with a ‘safe haven’ – or have adequate systems in place to detect a stationary vehicle and close the hard shoulder to traffic.

Mrs Mercer says her decision to speak publicly follows the discovery of a Highways England report, which The Sunday Telegraph says found drivers were three times more likely to break down in a live lane when the hard shoulder had been removed.

The report also revealed CCTV operators took an average of 20 minutes to spot stranded vehicles before closing the lane.

Mrs Mercer told The Sunday Telegraph: “The smart motorways experiment has failed and should now be scrapped.”



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    Don’t forget that Highways England have in the past tacitly admitted that the smart motorways concept in its current form is not fit for purpose, as they announced to muted fanfare that additional safety refuges would have to be added

    David Weston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
    Agree (12) | Disagree (3)

    Probably one of the highest concerns for traffic engineers is the risk and likelihood of unintended negative consequences to changes they make to roads. Management can grade many possible negatives as not very probable and Produce a risk assessment to support that view.

    If these deaths were solely the result of the smart motorways concept in action, then it is time for a serious and wholesale review. Sadly it may take this threat of litigation to produce the heart searching investigation that has been long needed. I wouldn’t be surprised to read of one or two whistle blowers views fairly soon.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (15) | Disagree (0)

    I’ve often found that “smart motorways” often bring out the dumbest in drivers.

    I quite often have to proceed from lane 1, to lane 4 and back to lane 1 due to numerous drivers sitting at approximately 67mph in lane 2 or lane 3, ostensibly to avoid the cameras

    David Weston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
    Agree (7) | Disagree (5)

    I am sure there have been collisions on busy 70mph dual c/ways, where there has never been a hard shoulder and no monitoring. If you break down in lane one, you are a sitting duck. Whether its a M/way or a dual c/way, those coming up behind need to look at what’s ahead and concentrate.

    One other thing – even on M/ways with a hard shoulder – collisions can happen in lanes two and three where the traffic slows and/or comes to a stop and those behind were not prepared for it.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (13) | Disagree (0)

    This was always the doomsday scenario that was predicted to happen. The priority of increasing traffic flow over driver safety should never have happened.

    joe, Sefton
    Agree (19) | Disagree (4)

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